January 9th. The Christmas tree, or should I say fire hazard now long in the tooth droops in the corner of the living room. Brittle needles find their way to the hardwood floor, forming a circular colony of tinder. Surprisingly, the scent of pine has been growing stronger, filling the front rooms of our small cape cod style home. Holiday postpartum has descended upon this place. Andy Williams is not singing of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Festive open houses are closed. The last of the baked goods have fossilized and so been shown out to the frozen garden plot for the birds to beak. The heat runs near constantly as the days of subfreezing temperatures depress the mercury in this part of the world.
I miss the holidays, the anticipation, the many opportunities to raise a glass with old friends and make new ones. Over the years Christmas time has always managed to deliver joy, optimism, and magic. I found myself this season thinking for the first time about the fact that I have only so many Holiday celebrations left. It may sound morose, indeed but this recognition of reality is also a useful reminder. Living fully, openly, and with the intent to make the most of each moment is a choice…just that, a choice. We only have so long to become our best, then we rest. Have you made strides in this quest over this last year?
When the twinkling lights go dark, and the long nights unrelentingly hold the world, we may turn inward, we may be saddened, or we may take no notice. To each his own. I for one find myself a bit saddened, a bit grateful, and a bit nostalgic. Every day is not Christmas, though as Charles Dickens suggested we might do our best to keep it in our hearts throughout the year.
Barring an untimely demise, I will find myself eleven months from now decking the halls, raising a glass, wrapping treasures for those I love, and feeling that twinge of the childlike excitement that the holidays bring. I know not all share my opinion of the magic of Christmas time, and to those who struggle during the season, I wish you strength and love. May your days be merry and bright, long after the twinkle lights have faded.
I spent 3-4 hours last weekend refurbishing runner sleds.I have a bit of a fascination with these playthings. Over the years I’ve accumulated five of them. The first one I received for my fifth birthday, a 1966 Flexible Flyer.Another belonged to my maternal grandpa, dated 1906.The third I found in the shed of the house my sons and I moved into once we were finally able to move out of our one-bedroom apartment. I stumbled upon the last two in a pawn shop on Nolensville Road here in Nashville, Tennessee.If You aren’t familiar with Nolensville Road, it is rife with pawn shops, paycheck advance loan joints, and delightful Mexican restaurants.In addition to the family of runner sleds, I am in possession of one ridiculously long wooden toboggan, the sled, not the hat…and when the hell did we give birth to that term for a ski cap? But I digress.Why this winter snow and sled proclivity?I’m guessing it is a subconscious reaction to growing up in alway sunny southern California.
Yes, I now live in Nashville, Tennessee.No, we don’t get a lot of snow these days, though we used to. In the early nineteen something-or-others, we had such a winter here in middle Tennessee that the Cumberland River froze over.The mighty waterway that splits our fair city turned solid to the point where one could drive a car across it.Global warming…politics/science aside, I refurbish the sleds in the hope that we will have at least a day or two this winter to run them.
Peter Pan would have liked sledding.Not the pop psychology Peter Pan, the immature fop that many equate with the “not willing to work” type.From what I’ve read the real Pete fought valiantly for what he valued.He worked to be free and shared the fruits of his indefatigable labors with the lost boys.Courage, rather than immaturity may be a more suitable way to define Mr. Pan.Do what we have to do to protect what we love, right?
As it relates to surviving the aging process in modern times, what about blinders?Some of those who are not familiar with the term “horseless carriage” may also be perplexed by the term “blinders.”Blinders where created to be worn by horses as they pulled carriages through busy streets, often more like mud troughs, of bustling turn of the century cities.They were designed to protect the beasts from overstimulation.Blinders, therefore, aren’t intended to create a state of blindness, rather they are intended to facilitate focus.I think we can all give a nod to the value of focus, yes?Focus is the rail on which we are able to forge momentum.It is the way we get from standing still to lightspeed.Growing up is one thing, acting the role of a “grown-up” is another.Focus is most likely about creating a life that matters, whether it fits a societally accepted norm or not.
Some people loved sledding when they were children.Some people did not.Some who did appreciate the sport lost that love as the grew up.Others did not; (Sidebar, I realize my fixation with riding sleds is absurd).Deconstructed, the act of sliding down a hill on a fast-moving vehicle has no scientifically significant value.You can’t necessarily become spiritually whole, the richest man in the world, or the president of the United States by sledding down an icy hill…or can you?Olympic bobsledders may win gold medals then return to their day jobs at HomeDepot.Are they the better for it?Probably.Have they become the Dalai Lama?Eh!
Sleds aside, what do we gain from our adult choices; from putting aside childish things?Do we gain Money?Security?Power?Freedom…Whatever the fuck that means?Most likely yes.What do we lose in exchange?The process of maturing is exciting, confusing, intoxicating most often inevitable.It can bring great things, but at what cost?Do we have to surrender our child-like wonder in order to survive as adults?If we do in fact, have to sacrifice our childhood consciousness to become grown-ups what language will we use to communicate with children?If not their’s then who’s?
Peter Pan was written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904.He saw struggling children in need of relief, and so created a fantasy world based on his hopes for their emotional survival, or so I surmise.He crafted a surreal safe harbor for humans faced with the reality of aging.It was to be his most celebrated work.It overshadowed all others in his career.Curios that a story so well received at the time of its creation has been reduced to a term used to define those who refuse to conform to rather rigidly defined acceptable forms of “adulthood” in modern times.
Back to sled riding for a sec, and for those without snow in there lives please substitute an appropriate metaphor. If at times we feel stuck, sad, discontented, hopeless or just bored, perhaps a swift ride on a polished set of steel runners could be the perfect emotional reset.If everything is just fine, all is right with the world, would it not be still be a hoot to make time to feel the rush of plummeting down a snowy hill, just to see where it takes us; feeling the wind blow through our hair as we descend a slope of memories long left behind.Why the hell not?
Freedom, heaven, hell, sorrow, joy, regret, redemption; they live within all of us. On good days we get to choose which of them we will invite for a play date. I find that when the long nights of winter begin to weigh on me the ensuing darkness can be parted by pushing off hard and diving onto my ’66 Flyer for an icy glide. Sometimes it’s the simple things, often even “childish things” that make the world brighter, better, and for at least a rare moment, timeless.
I love Christmas time.Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, etc..Who could argue with that?One doesn’t have to adhere in any particular faith, denomination or horoscope reading to find those concepts at least somewhat reasonable.
The Christmas tree, to which I’m quite partial, was not likely on the scene manger side in Bethlehem those many years ago, nor at any of Dr. J’s following birthday parties in the first century AD.It’s not a symbol of Christmas biblically, yet every December, or late November given one’s proclivity regarding such things, most of us pile ourselves, our families, or our friends and/or loved ones into the car and set out to find the perfect tree.The perfect dead tree that is, to procure, lash to the top of our car, and position in a place of prominence in our homes.Why?
The indoor tree as I understand it has its roots, pun-ish, in pagan ritual.It is meant to be symbolic of the fact that even during the darkest, most barren times endured in the northern hemisphere life will eventually spring anew.It is a reminder to be patient; to respect the way of things.To be clear, I’m not talking about the kind of patience seen on the Black Friday evening news during which local affiliates and their national counterparts recount the mob scenes, in-store fistfights of the day, etc.Wink! It’s more of a Christ-like, or buddha-ish if you will, patience that the pagans hinted at with there indoor arboreal relocation ritual.Coincidence?
Christmas spirit is, in my opinion, a safe place, an opportunity to reset, to reconsider one’s perspective in the midst of a dark, cold, and often trying time of the year.Candles glow, firelight dances across the room, the smell of pine permeates the house.These are all choices to which we can give life unless one is in lack of a fireplace.Even those who have no built-in way of burning yet other dead tree and thereby contributing in their own way to global warming can burn the yule log through the convenience of Netflix, or a discount DVD.No, It’s not the things or the smells per se, but the opportunity, the idea, of having the choice to create the experience; something different that shines an inner light on the darkness. That’s what fuels my Christmas spirit.
Christmas giving is or can be a two-way street.Some give to be appreciated.Some give to give.Christmas time allows a perennial look at who we are and why we do what we do; if only we might take the time to decipher our motives.It’s likely that most of us appreciate Christmas in theory.However, have you heard someone utter the words, “I just have to make it through the holidays?”It’s likely that those folks have fallen under the western interpretation of the season that involves hosting, presenting, performing…ugh, exhausting right?The greatest gift of Christmas spirit I can give is the gift given to me by the pagan rituals…patience.Loving more than I usually do.Letting mishaps pass as though they were nothing because let’s face it, in the ultimate scheme of things they often are just that. A dropped ornament, someone who will remain nameless licking the baking spoon before we have finished laying cookie dough on the tray, anxious children acting out due to excitement are all part of the experience, and of course the impatient driver, shopper, clerk, etc.
Christmas spirit comes upon me, overtakes me and empowers me.Christmas time fills me with the hope that I can choose to be my best me.To be more giving, more thoughtful, more patient than I might otherwise choose to be.That is the best gift of all.And so with joy in my heart, I wish you a very Merry Christmas time!
I am but a tiny grain of sand on an infinite beach, or desert maybe.The “infinite” makes it difficult to know for sure because the old metaphor never specifically defines the roll of “an ocean” in the mix.If we are just talking about “sand” it could be an endless Sahara Desert; makes me thirsty just thinking about it.A beach as seen by some is the most amazing strip of Real estate in the universe.We’ve all heard, “I could never live without the ocean nearby!”For others it’s sand in the crack, sunburn and “It’s cool, but I’ll take the mountains!”As for the desert, I’ve never met someone who saw this geographically threatening environment as the be all and end all of permanent residences, so for the purpose of out metaphor above I’m going with desert, ha!
Anyway, (The use of the non-word “anyways” is one of my only grammatical pet peeves. Not sure why that one stuck in my craw but when I hear it said out loud my fists involuntarily clench and I taste metal in my mouth)…So anyway, maybe we are grains of sand, whatever.I love the fact that in that light neither we nor the things we do hold much importance.Puts things in a humility based perspective framework right?The funniest part about that is that if your ego is anything like mine the first words out of its loudmouth are “Bull Shit!”Well “Whatever” to that crap too!Despite it’s best intentions the ego is often the “desert,” wishing it were a “beach.”
We are complex vessels of potentially self-torture inducing duality hurtling through a desert or a beach or a glass factory for all we know, and soon enough we suddenly find ourselves lacking the consciousness to wrestle with the beach/desert conundrum.We are gone, in the blink of an eye, the same length of a blink we rode in on, and 99.9% percent of the sand grains in the universe will never even knew we had crystallized.
Opening the cosmic door, reaching into the void and pulling back a handful of “meaning” is the greatest adventure, balancing act, magic trick, win around.We construct lives made out of our individual interpretations of “meaning,” pure and simple.We make them up.Are they real?Does any of this matter?Prove that it doesn’t, and I’ll give you some silica.
This holiday weekend I’ve had a lot of time to think about the problems in my life.I’ve also spent time wrapping my consciousness around my many blessings.Life is spectacular even as I struggle with some massively disconcerting and potentially life-changing issues that are beyond my control.Welcome back to the cosmic door, which it turns out is not unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.We never know what we are going to get, but I do know this.I am here now, today, stretching to stand tall in my little sand suit.I am so grateful for my family and friends, teachers,past loves, the grocery clerk who always smiles when I come in, the homeless man singing on his usual corner at the 2nd Ave overpass, and you my reader friends for being kind enough to accompany me on this greatest of adventures.xo
I have nothing to say… Oh wait, that can’t be right.The voice in my head never stops yammering, so perhaps I should just share a bit of that monkey din.Let’s see, I was super uptight with my kids this morning in response to their less than “militarily precise” approach to preparing for the first day of school.My fluster-faced antics were unnecessary and as it turns out, super unproductive.They watched me rant with bemused looks of teenage indifference.Suddenly it dawned on me that I was “choosing” to be an ass. “Thank god,” I thought, and just like that, I chose to change my choice.I decided that I no longer wished to be a “that dad,” so I stopped my foolishness, and apologized to my sons.Breakfast and the ride to school were lighthearted and fun.So that’s all I have to say…
Wait, I do want to mention that while I was acting like a child, they were keeping their distance, staying emotionally clear of the bad mojo vortex.They had decided it seems, to give me the space to work through whatever ass clown hair shirt I was knitting without engaging.Well done boys.
I have nothing to say, that needs to be said, at the moment.That said or said thrice perhaps, I like saying stuff.When I was a young boy I had, as some parents might say “a lot of energy.”My father was a man of few words.Of those few words, the ones I often heard were “stop babbling.”What?Not enrich the world with my eight-year-old prattle?You can’t be serious? Poor guy’s ears must have been near bleeding!
I have a couple talkers in my house.The suspects are male, ages 13 and 16.While they both can go on serious verbal tears, the 13-year-old is exceptionally gifted.He can speak incessantly for such extended periods that we’ve actually coined terms to describe his gift.When he’s been thinking out loud at the speed of sound for some interminable period, we call it ‘streaming’…he calls it “broadcast mode.”I used to talk, or “babble” like that when I was a boy, ha!It doesn’t hurt anyone, so I just let him blow that horn.
Some folks don’t talk much. Some folks do.Some are great listeners while others don’t seem to have the ability to give two stray shits about what anyone says, even as they pretend to listen. What?Ha, just kidding.
So it seems I have nothing important to say, but I’m damn happy to be here, to have another day on this planet with opportunities in front of me and most of the “learning the hard way” behind me.Babblers, quite folk, grumpsters, and joy monkeys, may you find wildflowers and spring water along your path as you walk to the beat of your own personal expression drums.
Broken things, some we are quick to cast aside, some are not so easily released.A Van Gogh, a toy doll, a locket, a person; all come into existence with the sheen of shiny fresh brand new ‘here I am.”Over time that bit fades, ultimately replaced by the thing that most often happens to things that persist in the act of existence,some sort of brokenness.A locket or pocket watch have sentiment on their side.If these become broken a fix of some sort is possible if the owner is sufficiently motivated by emotional attachment.What of broken people?As I glance to my left wrist, I see my great grandfather’s watch. He, a broken thing that ultimately could not be “fixed’ left this working timepiece as a memory.
Hearts are regularly broken; so are bonds of friendship, vows, and refrigerators.The casting aside and replacing of broken things happens when we lose faith, often rightly so, in the possibility of repair.Other times we simply must do the work of restoration or so parish, as with our hearts.I have a sentimental streak that has caused a light hoarding behavior at times.I hold onto my collection of five old runner sleds even as the warming of the earth no longer offers winter in my part of the world.The sleds aren’t broken.However, their usefulness is but a memory.Still, like a locket bearing the picture of a loved one, in my case winter, they hold value, hope, promise, or nostalgia, that I am reluctant to release.
I’ve walked some of my days with a broken heart, many adult humans do.Fill in the blank as to the details with your own experiences, and we will likely be in understanding of one another.It is a scar, or a badge, or a shitty outcome that clings to the soul like a limpet to the hull of a sailing vessel.It by itself will not plot the course of a journey though it may slow the runnings.So it goes with we who have minds made of chains that rattle and dance each morning when we decide to once again rise and face the day.
I learned yesterday that my best friend of thirty-eight years, Dr. David, (mentioned in a previous Random Fiction blog post “Free Fall,” irony included) has acute leukemia. He has passed, at least temporarily from the realm of shiny new things into that of the broken.He wore a brave face Thursday as he entered a month of hospitalized solitude to face down his indiscriminate adversary in a firestorm of chemotherapy.
Interestingly, several months ago, before this category 5 shit-storm reared its ugly head, Dave and I spent a weekend visiting the college town where he and I met. Our in the moment state of unbrokenness found us commenting that we both felt as though we were still the same boys that had made acquaintance there those many years ago.Alas, as some friend of Anne Lamott’s said, “we are all born astride the grave.”Acknowledging that fact is ultimately both a curse and a relief… at least for me.That said, I will give any and all of my time, money, and bone marrow to fix this particular broken thing.Love to you my dearest friend.My heart is with you all the way.
Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.“Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.“Perhaps.”
The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it. For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums. Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them. Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.
Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.
As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.
As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.
The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.
The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.
So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation. I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“No fucking way!” Les blurted, staring through the passenger window at the sitting Grizzly.During his time in the mountains, he had only had two encounters with bears, in as many days, yesterday and today.A wave of uneasiness swept over him with the intensity of a mountain storm, swift and ominous.Deciding that McGee Creek would not be his fishing destination de jour Les turned the key to fire up the Cruiser.The always reliable starter whined, but the engine did not catch.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, “Not Good!”Les released his twisting pressure on the key momentarily then tried again glaring imploringly at the ignition.The starter whinnied on for seconds like an anguished electric horse, but the familiar roar of the engine did not come.
“Slam” something hit the driver side window with such force that Les closed his eyes, certain that he would be covered with broken glass.His right hand shot to the passenger seat wrapping his hand around the grip of his pistol.As he took up the .45, he saw through the passenger window that the bear was no longer on the river bank.He whipped around to face the driver side window weapon raised.A surprised Shash took a step back, showing a mix of amusement and concern in his dark eyes.
“Jesus!” Came Lester’s muffled voice through the closed window, “You scared the shit out of me!”
“My apologies,” offered Shash, taking another step away from the Cruiser to allow room for his enormous frame to execute the slightest of bows.“Sounds like you’re having engine troubles.I knocked to offer my assistance.”
“Knocked?” Lester thought, “The blow Shash had landed could have crushed a lesser car!” Les’ mind was swimming.“Bears, giants, dead engines, what the fuck?Did someone drug my Bourbon last night?And what the hell happened to my truck?”
He laid the Browning back on the passenger seat and unbuckled his seatbelt.He reached for the door handle then hesitated.What the hell was this Shash doing here and where the shit-hell had he come from?Les hadn’t seen anyone, other than the Grizzly when he’d pulled to a stop here in the middle of nowhere, and there were no other cars at the turnout.
“Pop the hood,” Shash commanded in his deep rumble of a voice, “I’ll have a look.”
After a pregnant moment of consideration, Les smiled weakly and complied.As the giant made his way to the front of the Cruiser Les noticed that he appeared to be wearing the same oversized mad-max, bounty hunter regalia that he’d worn last night at the Sierra Springs.Les glanced at the Browning resting on the seat beside him, considering the bizarre, disconcerting nature of his current situation, then decided to leave where it lay.He took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his brow, opened his door and stepped out onto the dusty gravel ground of the turnout.
Shash had opened the hood and reached into the engine compartment with a mechanic’s confidence.“Try it now” he bellowed not realizing that Lester had left the cab and was now standing two feet from him.Les jumped, “Jesus!” He exclaimed.
“How much coffee have you had this morning friend?You seem a bit edgy.”Shash grinned.
Lester looked up at him with a mixture of indignation, awe and thinly veiled alarm.Without saying a word he turned and marched back to the cab.
“I’m definitely taking a nap today” he muttered to himself.
Les swung into the driver’s seat and turned the key.Sweet internal combustion music sprang from the now purring engine.Shash closed the hood. “Loose spark plug connections.All good for now, but you may wanna look at replacing them before winter.”Les, sitting in the driver seat with a bit of a glazed look on his face nodded slowly. “Safe travels Lester” Shash said.Then he turned and strode across the road.
“Thank you,” Les yelled at the closed window, his words bouncing loudly throughout the cab.He fumbled for the window switch, but by the time the window was opening Shash had crossed the road and was heading for the woods.Les watched mutely as the giant made his way into the beginnings of a cedar grove and vanished.
Lester McClain sat motionless gripping the steering wheel; feeling the gentle vibration born of the purring engine on his damp palms.Eventually coming out of his stupor he turned his gaze to McGee Creek.No sign of the bear.Releasing the wheel, he ran his hands through his hair leaning back with a long exhale.“Jesus!” He exclaimed for the third time that morning.He put the cruiser in gear. Fishing was no longer on the agenda.No, if fact Les was suddenly and overwhelmingly motivated to pursue indoor activities for the rest of the day. With a spray of gravel, he wheeled out onto the road, made a hurried U-turn and headed back down the mountain.